A Houma businessman fined for illegal contributions to U.S. Sens. Mary Landrieu and David Vitter also helped finance the campaigns of Gov. Bobby Jindal and other Louisiana officials.
Arlen B. Cenac Jr. and his companies, Cenac Towing and Cenac Offshore, gave thousands of dollars to Jindal, State Treasurer John Kennedy and state Agriculture Commissioner Mike Strain, according to reports filed with state Board of Ethics.
Jindal, Kennedy and Strain said Thursday that they have no plans to return the money.
“We solicited money and got campaign money,” Strain said. “I don’t know Mr. Cenac.”
Over the years, Cenac made campaign contributions to former Gov. Kathleen Blanco, former state Attorney General Richard Ieyoub and former state Sen. Reggie Dupre, according to disclosures filed with the state Board of Ethics.
His contributions to Vitter date to the senator’s state legislative tenure.
Cenac Towing gave $100,000 to the Louisiana Committee for a Republican Majority, which Vitter helped launch in 2005 to elect conservative leaders, Ethics Board records show. The group gave money to support Republican candidates, predominantly, for the Louisiana House and Senate, according to disclosures with the Ethics Board.
Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, D.C., called CREW, said Jindal and others would be wise to study their campaign accounts for any irregularities.
She said the general public cannot examine campaign contributions to the degree of finding red flags such as sequentially numbered cashier checks.
“Given the significant illegalities ... one has reason to doubt any contribution attached to Mr. Cenac,” Sloan said.
Cenac is a wealthy Houma businessman with long ties to Louisiana political leaders and a history of legal entanglements.
Neither he nor his attorney responded to requests for comment Thursday.
Earlier this summer, Cenac’s towboat company was levied $525,000 in fines for failing to test raw sewage samples.
In a conciliation agreement released Wednesday, the Federal Election Commission found that Cenac “knowingly and willfully violated” federal campaign contribution limits. Cenac, president and sole owner of Cenac Towing Co. and other companies headquartered in Houma, will pay a $170,000 fine.
The commission concluded that Cenac made contributions in the name of employees and relatives to circumvent rules that limit federal campaign contributions to $2,300 for primary and general elections.
According to the agreement, Cenac’s secretary used a $15,000 Cenac Towing check to secure cashier’s checks payable to Vitter’s Senate campaign in 2008. The contributions were made in the names of Cenac’s employees and relatives.
Two months later, the agreement said, Cenac’s secretary arrived at the bank with a $25,300 personal check which was converted into six cashier’s checks payable to Landrieu’s Senate campaign. The contributions were made in the names of Cenac’s employees.
“Cenac contends he has no knowledge about these issues, but agrees that the records reflect such facts,” the agreement stated.
Documents filed with the agreement show that Landrieu’s campaign staff turned the contributions over to the treasury after growing suspicious about them because they were sequentially numbered checks from the same bank.
CREW brought the contributions to the commission’s attention by filing a complaint that resulted in the fine against Cenac.
“People who have been receiving his contributions should be going back and looking,” Sloan said. “(They) should be hesitant to take future contributions.”
State law limits campaign contributions from individuals and companies to $5,000 for major office seekers.
Financial reports filed with the state Board of Ethics detail Cenac’s contributions in state races and to Vitter’s organization.
In 2006 and 2007, when Jindal was running for governor, Cenac and two of his companies — Cenac Towing and Cenac Offshore — each contributed $5,000 to the campaign, the disclosures show. An Arlen B. Cenac, of Houma, has given $5,200 to Jindal. A Dr. Christopher E. Cenac Jr. and Audra Cenac, with the same address in Houma, each gave $1,000.
Jindal’s political advisor and former campaign manager, Timmy Teepell, said he does not know Arlen B. Cenac Jr. but has no reason to question the contributions.
“I assume those contributions were given in accordance with the law,” Teepell said Thursday. “We accept all contributions at face value.”
Arlen B. Cenac Jr. has given $10,000 to Strain’s campaigns, according to the Ethics Board. Cenac Towing has given $10,000 to Kennedy’s state campaigns over the years.
Kennedy’s spokesman, Jason Redmond, said a contribution that Cenac made to Kennedy’s 2008 U.S. Senate campaign fell within the legal limits. “The John Kennedy for U.S. Senate committee and account have since been closed,” Redmond said Thursday.